How do we know an animal is Endangered?

How do we know an animal is Endangered?

Over 40,000 animal species are currently threatened with extinction, and it is believed that up to 338 vertebrate species have been lost to extinction in the past 500 years.

Photo by Chantelle Melzer

In 1964, in order to help guide global conservation action, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) began to compile a comprehensive database of the conservation status of species. This is known as the Red List of Threatened Species and is a critical tool used by decision-makers around the globe for conservation-planning. More than 142,500 species have been assessed and are listed on the IUCN Red List.

In an African context, the two carnivores listed as most threatened across the continent are:

1) The Ethiopian Wolf – Endangered (B1ab(iii,v); C1+2a(i); D) 

2) The African Wild Dog – Endangered (C2a(i)). 

Numerous threats have pushed these species into the precarious position they find themselves in today, such as direct persecution and habitat loss. But what specifically goes into an assessment on the IUCN Red List that categorises these species as being at high risk to extinction? And what do all those numbers, letters, and numerals mean?

How do we know an animal is Endangered?

Quite simply put, these numbers, letters, and numerals next to the status of a species form the criteria that has been used to list a species as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. There are 5 key criteria that are considered. These are: 

  1. Population Reduction Rate: Measured over 3 generation or 10 years (Whichever is longer)
  2. Geographic Range: Measured from Extent of Occurrence or Area of Occurrence
  3. Population Size: Number of mature individuals
  4. Population Restriction: Number of mature individuals
  5. Extinction Probability (in the wild)

Within each criteria lies information that can be used to categorise a species into the three threatened categories. 

In the case for both the Ethiopian Wolf and the African Wild Dog, Population Size (C) is one of the criteria that has been used to categorise these species as Endangered, with less than 2500 mature individuals left in the wild for both species. Additionally, their populations are in decline and no sub-population of either species contains more than 250 mature individuals (C2a(i)).

Figure 1: A Screenshot of the IUCN Red List Summary Sheet of Criteria C.

With a thorough and standardised way of assessing the conservation status of species across the globe like this, conservationists are given a framework to work within to achieve success and bring species back from the brink of extinction!

Wildlife ACT’s ultimate goal is to save our endangered species and wild places from extinction. To achieve this goal, Wildlife ACT focuses on 3 main areas: endangered and priority species monitoring, anti-poaching measures and technology, and community education and empowerment.

Find out more about our work with endangered species here.

For more information on the details behind the other criteria used in these assessments, visit:

Photo by Chantelle Melzer

Text by Wildlife ACT’s Applied Research Unit Coordinator  Human-Wildlife Coexistence Programme Manager, PJ Roberts.

Information resources: 

  • Ceballos, G., Ehrlich, P. R., Barnosky, A. D., García, A., Pringle, R. M., & Palmer, T. M. (2015). Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction. Science advances, 1(5), e1400253.
  • IUCN. 2021. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2021-3. Accessed on [06 July 2022].
  • Marino, J. & Sillero-Zubiri, C. 2011. Canis simensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2011: e.T3748A10051312. Accessed on 07 July 2022.
  • Woodroffe, R. & Sillero-Zubiri, C. 2020. Lycaon pictus (amended version of 2012 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T12436A166502262. Accessed on 07 July 2022.

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How do we know an animal is Endangered?

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